A 10 Day Road Trip Around Tropical North Queensland is an excellent way to see the World Heritage-listed sites of the Great Barrier Reef, Wet Tropics of Queensland and the Daintree Rain Forest. It also an opportunity to experience more of Australia’s iconic nature, wildlife, history, culture and its people.
We recently did just this 10 Day Road Trip of Tropical North Queensland. Australia is a welcoming country, and Tropical North Queensland is a friendly area, where people have time to shoot the breeze.
Many Visitors to Tropical North Queensland will arrive in Cairns where there is an international and domestic airport.
A Brief Overview of where we went
The road trip takes in the world heritage listed sites as well as the Cassowary Coast, the Atherton Tablelands and from Cairns north to the Mossman and Port Douglas. Each destination can be reached as a day trip from Cairns but also make an ideal road trip.
We are sharing what we did on our 10-day road trip, but it is easy to adapt depending on the time you have.
The only accommodation we had organized was at Cairns at the end of the road trip. Part of the fun of an Australian road trip is to stop at a pub or a motel when you feel like it and to have time to wander around.
The Cassowary Coast
The Cassowary Coast is so named, because of the cassowary that frequents this strip of land that runs between Cairns and Townsville. A cassowary is a flightless bird found in New Guinea and in Australia where they are sited from Cape York to Townsville.
It is also a coastline characterised by sugar cane plantations, which line the road, interspersed with groves of bananas. Cane Trains run along the road and are fascinating to watch.
Cairns to Gordonvale 23 kms
We drove from Cairns Airport to Gordonvale. The Mulgrave Central sugar mill is in the centre of the town. There are about 300 sugarcane farms that bring the cane to this mill. You can smell the sugar in the air. There are some beautiful heritage buildings in the town. It is also where you will see Walsh’s Pyramid, the highest freestanding natural pyramid in the world, and it is all natural, if not a little disconcerting.
Gordonvale to Innisfail 65 kms
This is a very interesting part of the Cassowary Coast. While it might only be 65kms, we spent a lot of time stopping and watching the cane trains. We also stopped to see the town of Babinda to see the Babinda Boulders and to admire Queensland’s highest mountain, Mount Bartle Frere.
Innisfail was a very pleasant surprise. Who would have thought that this is considered to be the art deco capital of Australia. It lies at the junction of the North and South Johnstone Rivers. It has great access to beautiful beaches and is a very popular fishing area, with marlin being sought out by international fishermen.
Did you know that Innisfail is to considered to be the Art Deco capital of Australia, have a read here about it
Innisfail to Tully 53kms
More beautiful countryside, and a town named El Arish. We found it unusual also, but the town was named after the city of Arish in Egypt where the Australian Light Horse saw action in December 1916. The street names are after high-ranking officers, and El Arish has a population of 442 people.
There is an ongoing feud between Tully and Babinda as to who can claim to be the wettest town in Australia each year.
Regardless, the Golden Gumboot stands proudly at the entrance to this sugar town of Tully asserting their claim to this title. The sun shone in both towns when we visited. Go figure.
Tully to Innisfail 53kms
We returned to Innisfail and checked into a pub for the night. Clean, basic and welcoming.
We had coffee and a big Innisfail breakfast at Famishes Café because the publican told us it was a big Aussie brekky. It was good.
Innisfail to Millaa Millaa 60 kms
Millaa Millaa is also known as the ‘Village in the Mist’. It is surrounded by dairy farms and a circuit of waterfalls, Millaa Millaa Falls, Zillie and Ellinjaa Falls. We stopped and went for a walk through the rainforest looking for the platypus but instead got the bush hens, who are quite amusing.
Millaa Millaa to Yungaburra 38 kms
As you can see, everything is really close. We went through the milk town of Malanda, stopped and had a walk at Lake Eacham, a volcanic lake.
We explored the Nerada Tea Estates, had a cuppa and some scones, because we could.
From there we went to the heritage village of Yungaburra. This is a café town surrounded by crater lakes, waterfalls and World Heritage rain forest.
We decided to spend 2 nights in Yungaburra as it is so central to everything and booked into a motel. We went to the pub, which is a great example of Federation architecture, with an amazing stairwell.
We found out something quite disturbing about hotel book sites here, or you our suspicions confirmed, when 1 last room, or last room remaining are not true. Read:
Make sure when you do a road trip, to tune into the local radio station. This gives you the local news of the area, the music that is popular and a general feel of the place. We found this fascinating as it changed where we went.
Yungaburra to Herberton 28 kms
This was the trip to see where Gordon was born in the old tin mining town of Herberton. We managed to talk to the lady in the house where he lived and were able to see it. We then went to the Herberton Mining Museum and spent a long time looking through all family records. From there we went to the open living museum, Historic Village Herberton where the village, as it was in its heyday, has been lovingly restored with many of the old buildings being moved to the site. Read all about it,
Later in the afternoon, we stopped at a rainforest and walked to a most unusual site, the Mt Hypipamee Crater. The crater is 61 metres in diameter, and 82 metres deep. Legend has it that some prospectors on their way to Herberton nearly fell into it.
See our guest post Oceania Above
We stopped at The Curtain Fig Tree and Peterson Creek Platypus on the way back, very late in the day.
“The curtain effect results from one tree leaning against another tree on a 45-degree angle. The strangler vine then grew along the oblique angle of the leaning tree, dangling 15 metres to the ground to create the curtain affect” Cairns Attractions
Yunguburra to Mutchilba, Dimbulah and Mareeba 122kms
This was a pleasant and easy trip as all of the legs of the road trip have been. We did a few detours here. We went out to the little town that nearly wasn’t a little town, Mutchilba where Gordon had also briefly lived.
There is a funny story. When the town of Mutchilba declined in population, it was taken off the town register of Australia. No one told the town of Mutchilba and they were pretty angry. After kicking up a real stink, they are back on the map, and this mango town is still small but obviously tenacious. Wait until they bring back the Mango Mardi Gras and they will.
We headed out to Dimbulah because I thought it was Dimboola, as in Dimboola the play by the Australian author Jack Hibberd. I was 2,915kms out, as Dimboola is in Victoria. I posted this on Facebook and immediately got a reply from the little town of Dimbulah, to stop for a cuppa. It may be a remote Queensland town, but they were all over the social media.
We then headed to Mareeba, famed for its coffee and once a renowned for tobacco growing plantations. The entire area of Tropical North Queensland is multicultural. Initially, indentured labour was brought in to work the cane fields from the Micronesian islands because the white plantation owners found it beneath their dignity to work in the fields. I doubt that much has changed now with workers from all over the world employed in the fields.
Mareeba to Kuranda 39 kms
Kuranda is a welcome rainforest, alternative town. The surroundings are magical, and we head straight to the Barron Falls and the Barron Gorge National Park. The Barron Falls is a steeply tiered cascade waterfall on the Barron River located where the river descends from the Atherton Tablelands to the Cairns coastal plain. This is part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. The Djabugai people and various government bodies have worked together to share these natural and very historic walking tracks.
There are numerous walking trails, and if you walk quietly, you can see many of the animals of the rainforest. You arrive at the Barron Falls, and they are totally spectacular.
The village itself is one of the most popular day trips from Cairns where people come up by the Kuranda Scenic Railway and return by the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway or vice versa.
These are both must do experiences.
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
This journey takes you through Australia’s World Heritage listed Tropical Rainforests as you go just over the rainforest canopy. There are two rainforest mid-stations to explore and learn more about this fascinating environment from the forest floor.
Kuranda Scenic Railway
Here you pass through the World Heritage protected tropical rainforest, past spectacular waterfalls and into the amazing Barron Gorge.
The village of Kuranda is full of arts and crafts shops, al fresco dining experiences and the Original and Heritage Markets. Of particular interest here is Birdworld Kuranda where we finally get to see two cassowaries as well as many other birds. Kuranda Koala Gardens attract many visitors and is a chance to get up close and personal with Australia’s unique wildlife.
A huge recommendation is to go on the Rainforest and Orchard Tour Kuranda, at Barron Falls Estate. This is where you quad bike it around the rainforest, stopping and learning about nature and the bush and see the spectacular Barron Falls from the other side. Here where we saw a cassowary and her chicks in the wild. Totally recommended and read how I was total natural at quad bike riding.
Read about how I became the campion quad bike rider on the Rainforest and Orchard Tour Kuranda
Kuranda is one of those towns that people spend a day at, but you can spend a lot more time. After the people go on the last train back to Cairns, it is very quiet. But the rainforest isn’t. This is such a lovely time to take some more of the walking trails, and to see exactly why this is heritage listed.
Read about Kuranda, the 10am to 3pm village
Kuranda to Cairns 29 kms
This is a pleasant drive descending from the Village in the Rainforest to the city of Cairns. We stayed in a beautiful apartment on Trinity Outlet, Park Regis Piermonde, and we recommend this. We went for brunch because Cairns had some amazing eateries and walked around the city.
Visiting the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park is special, and authenticity is the key. It is located in Smithfield at the base of the Skyrail cableway. Tjapukai means ‘People of the Rainforest’. There are displays and cultural dances and a living timeline of the Tjapukai from Dreamtime until this day.
Cairns to Mossman to Port Douglas 97km
It is 75kms from Cairns to Mossman. You drive along the gorgeous Coral Coast with mountains towering on the other side. We are back to sugar canes, and a sugar mill in the village of Mossman and the smell of sugar and rainforest all in one.
Mossman Gorge is located in the World Heritage-listed, Daintree National Park. The Mossman Gorge is dramatic; the water is crystal clear, and the area is rich in Aboriginal History. The Ngadiku Dreamtime Walks are an excellent way to get a better understanding of this interaction between people and nature. It is also all about the waterfalls, mountains and the flora and fauna.
We then head back to Port Douglas, 21km towards Cairns.
Port Douglas is bohemian chic. It is also the gateway to the two World Heritage listed sites, the Great Barrier Reef and the rainforest of Daintree and Cape Tribulation. Port Douglas is a cool. Macrossan St, the main street is full of cafes, shops and people.
There are so many resorts in Port Douglas and it has that party feel to all of the time.
Four Mile Beach is a palm tree lined beautiful white beach where you can walk before stopping for a cocktail or a beer anywhere. Many boats leave from here to the Great Barrier Reef, and many tours leave to explore the Daintree and Cape Tribulation.
Day 9 and 10
We decided to spend the last days exploring Cairns itself as a city and very much liked what we found. We have done the Great Barrier Reef tours some times before and have explored a lot of the Daintree though we could easily have done both again.
Cairns is the gateway to all of the above activities and destinations. People from all over the world start and end in Cairns. They know this, and they have got things done very well to receive all of its guests. I don’t think enough people explore the city proper, which is why we did and have written about it. From the Esplanade to the inlet and the magnificent Cairns Botanic Garden, this is a city that surprised us in a very good way.
If you are coming to Tropical North Queensland, and you will because of its is unparalleled beauty, you will be pleasantly surprised at how much there is to see and to do.
As I mentioned before, each of these can be done as day trips from Cairns itself. However, a road trip is a really unique way to explore the Cassowary Coast, Atherton Tablelands, the Great Barrier Reef, Wet Tropics of Queensland and the Daintree Forest, all World Heritage-listed sites.
The writers were guests of Tigerair Australia, and of many places and at other places we paid our own way.